Revealed: The care home deaths linked to residents discharged after testing positive for COVID

·4-min read
Outbreaks in care homes was one of the biggest issues facing the country at the start of the pandemic. (PA)
Outbreaks in care homes were one of the biggest issues facing the country at the start of the pandemic. (PA)

The government has revealed how many people living in care homes died after one of their residents was discharged from hospital after testing positive for COVID-19.

In a report released by Public Health England (PHE) on Thursday, they said 97 COVID-19 outbreaks in care homes in England between 30 January to 12 October 2020 could be linked to a resident returning home from a hospital with a confirmed case of coronavirus.

This accounts for 1.6% of the total outbreaks in care homes in the period covered, and resulted in 286 people deaths. 

However the true number of outbreaks and deaths caused by patients being discharged from hospital suffering from COVID is far higher.

Most of these outbreaks occurred in March to mid-April before testing was brought in. The study did not look at asymptomatic cases.

Experts say that many deaths in care homes during the first wave happened due to outbreaks after residents suffering from COVID were discharged from hospital without a test. 

Health secretary Matt Hancock admitted on Thursday that it "wasn't possible" to test elderly and vulnerable people for coronavirus before moving them back in care homes in the early stages of the pandemic.

Hancock was accused by Dominic Cummings this week of lying to colleagues about the issue, and of assuring the cabinet that residents were being tested before discharge when they weren't.

There have been 36,375 COVID-19 deaths in care homes since the beginning of the pandemic.

Most of the COVID-19 outbreaks in care homes occurred in the first months of the pandemic. (PHE)
Most of the COVID-19 outbreaks in care homes occurred in the first months of the pandemic. (PHE)

Read more: 9 explosive claims about how Boris Johnson runs the country

Policies on testing people prior to being discharged from hospital to a care home were introduced on 15 April 2020 and soon after the number of outbreaks in care homes dropped dramatically.

During a seven-hour evidence session on Wednesday, Cummings told MPs that the prime minister had been told “categorically in March that people will be tested before they went back to care homes” from hospital by Hancock – something which did not happen.

Watch: Hancock defends record on care homes

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Cummings said it was “complete nonsense” to claim the government had put a shield around care homes.

He said the prime minister was furious to discover in April 2020 - after he had returned to work after suffering from COVID-19 - that untested patients had been discharged to care homes.

The former aide said Hancock should have been sacked on 15 to 20 occasions and Whitehall’s top official at the time, Sir Mark Sedwill, had “lost confidence in the Secretary of State’s honesty”.

Hancock has defended his handling of the early stages of the pandemic.

Watch: Five key moments from Cummings's testimony

Hancock told a Downing Street press conference on Thursday: "We worked as hard as we could to protect people who live in care homes, and of course those who live in care homes are some of the most vulnerable to this disease because by its nature it attacks and has more of an impact on older people."

When asked if he had told Johnson and Cummings that everyone going from hospitals to care homes would be tested, he said: “Of course we committed, and I committed, to getting the policy in place but it took time to build the testing.

“We didn’t start with a big testing system in the UK and then we built that testing system, and that’s why the 100,000 target was so important because it really accelerated the availability of testing because when you don’t have much testing we had to prioritise it according to clinical need.”

When pressed if he had told the prime minister and Cummings in March 2020 that they would all be tested, Hancock said: “My recollection of events is that I committed to delivering that testing for people going from hospital into care comes when we could do it.

“I then went away and built the testing capacity for all sorts of reasons and all sorts of uses, including this one, and then delivered on the commitment that I made.”